Events in Bayelsa State, in the past two months, have given the lie to the People’s Democratic Party’s pursuit of internal democracy and reformation. That the drama is being staged in the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan has also cast a doubt on the President’s commitment to electoral reform. In spite of denials, many people believe that Jonathan has a hand in the travails of Governor Timipre Sylva.
The Bayelsa episode has no semblance of transparency, which is the hallmark of Jonathan’s electoral reform and the PDP has not come out in clear terms to justify the disqualification of Sylva. Initially, the coast was clear for the governor. The Bayelsa State Gubernatorial Screening Committee headed by Brig. Idi Adamu (rtd.) had on October 29, given the governor the go-ahead to contest the November 19 PDP governorship primaries. He was even given a certificate with serial number 0000012. But prior to this exercise, there had been rumours that powerful men close to the President were uncomfortable with Sylva.
But before Sylva could finish shouting Hosanna, the PDP, in a manner reminiscent of undemocratic primaries conducted during Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, set up a governorship appeal committee headed by a former deputy governor of Ekiti State, Mrs. Olujimi. Right from the outset, it was obvious that the committee had a hidden agenda as its workings were shrouded in secrecy. When it submitted its report to the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) and the elders of the party, who eventually withheld the governor’s clearance, it was clear that it was acting a script.
However, the acting National Chairman of the PDP, Kawu Baraje, in a desperate, but futile move to rationalize the party’s decision, said the governor had been told the reasons he was excluded from the governorship primaries. But in a swift reaction, Sylva’s Chief Press Secretary, Doifie Ola, said “At no time did Baraje discuss the so-called sins with him (the governor). We are aware that the PDP national chairman has been giving different ‘reasons’ to different people on the illegal exclusion of the governor. But at last, Baraje has exposed the fact that there was no reason known to law and commonsense for the exclusion of the governor.” The war of words between the governor and the PDP leaders is an indication that democracy is on trial in the party. That the PDP is at a crossroads as far Bayelsa issue is concerned is an understatement.
Surprisingly, amidst the victimization, Gov. Sylva has remained unperturbed and rebuffed all attempts to pit him against the President. “What is clear to me, my supporters, and indeed all lovers of democracy in our dear country Nigeria, is that there is a desperate attempt by certain forces to illegally exclude me from seeking re-election as Governor of Bayelsa State on the platform of the PDP,” the governor noted in reaction to the shenanigans of the PDP. When it became obvious that the leadership of the party could not protect him from hawks within its fold, the governor headed for the Federal High Court, on November 16. The court issued an injunction ordering the PDP not to hold its primaries scheduled for November 19. In a manner that was only reflective of its confused state, the party initially said it did not get the injunction. Later when it swallowed its pride and admitted that it had received it, the PDP vowed to disobey the court order.
If anybody had thought that the PDP under Jonathan had undergone a complete rebirth, such a person must have perished the thought. Like the PDP, under Jonathan’s godfather, Obasanjo, the party leaders treated the court order with disdain. The party’s action negated the President’s self-acclaimed commitment to the rule of law.
The PDP went ahead to hold the primaries, but thank God, the Independent National Electoral Commission distanced itself from the illegality of the party that prides itself as the biggest in Africa. The election umpire refused to send its officials to the illegal primaries, citing the court injunction. The Commissioner in Charge of Information, Mr. Solomon Soyebi, noted that “INEC is a law abiding commission and since there is a court order, we will not do anything that is contrary to the provisions of the law. We at the commission obey court orders.” But like the proverbial hunter’s dog that is doomed to get lost, the PDP was not moved by INEC’s absence. It conducted the primaries, which was a colossal failure before it even started. It was widely boycotted by key functionaries as well as lawmakers from the State and the National Assembly.
Five aspirants -- Christopher Fullpower Enai, Boloubo Orufa, Fred Korobido Ekiyegha, Austin Febo, and Francis Amaebi Doukpola -- at a press conference in Yenogoa, rejected the ward congress that preceded the primaries, where a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Henry Dickson, was declared as winner.
Since the struggle for the soul of Bayelsa started, activities in the state have been grounded. This has been compounded by the deployment of troops in the state capital as residents live in perpetual fear of troops and policemen who take advantage of the tension in the state to exploit innocent citizens.
Surprisingly, the governor has been receiving support from unexpected quarters. For instance, the National Secretary of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buba Galadima, has said that the doors of the party are open to embattled governor.
According to Galadima, “The ruling PDP and the Presidency cannot succeed in portraying to Nigerians and the world that what is going on in the Bayelsa governorship primaries is an internal affair of the party. “CPC stands for progress, democracy, human rights and justice. As an innocent victim of fascism, CPC is sympathetic to Governor Sylva and other victims of PDP’s and the president’s injustice. Our party’s doors are wide open to all. We are willing to give every Nigerian a sanctuary against injustice and victimization by the state,” he said.
Also, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) described PDP’s decision as an imposition that was against the tenets of democracy globally. It said “the power to decide who represents the party at the polls lies with the members of the party in the state. The PDP national leadership’s intervention is unjustifiable and overbearing. We will not sit back and watch the people suffer. The CNPP will mobilise all its members in Bayelsa for Sylva. We will ensure that the power to decide who rules Bayelsa State still lies with the people in the long run.”
By now, the PDP and the hawks that surround Jonathan should know that it is not only opposition parties that are interested in what is going on in Bayelsa. Countries which gave Jonathan a pass mark over the conduct of the April polls are eagerly waiting to see the epilogue of the drama that started in the state two months ago. Is the President going back to the vomit of 2007? That is the billion naira question!
Timi Opokuma writes from Yenegoa, Bayelsa State.